Slievemoughanmore Western Mourne Circular Walk
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A looped walk over several of the western Mourne Mountains, Hen (361m), Cock (505m) and Pigeon Rock (534m) mountains, Slievemoughanmore (559m) and Wee Slievemoughan (428m) with a return via the Mourne Way.
Route Start Location: Hen Mountain Car Park, Sandbank Rd, Hilltown
|15.84 km||1061 m||4 hours|
Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.
Activivity Type: Hard Walk
Summits and Places on this Route
- The nearest of the local facilities is the Mourne View Bar, known as “Doran’s” on the Kilkeel Road heading back into Hilltown, BT34 5XZ https://www.facebook.com/Dorans-Bar-Hilltown-372027149564869/ T: 028 4063 0342
- In Hilltown, 2 miles away, located in the town’s Main Street are:
- The Downshire Arms https://www.facebook.com/DownshireArmsHilltown/ T: 028 4063 8899
- Minny Doyle’s Bar https://www.facebook.com/minny.doyles T: 028 4063 0045
- The attractive seaside town of Rostrevor is 5 miles away with several cafés and restaurants including:
- The Old School House Bistro https://www.facebook.com/TheOldSchoolHouseCafe/ T: 028 4173 8211
- Synge and Byrne in nearby Kilbroney Forest Park https://syngeandbyrne.com/ T: +44 28 4173 7705.
- Accommodation options include The Whistledown Hotel in nearby Warrenpoint https://www.thewhistledownhotel.com/ T: 028 4175 4174
Take care if exploring the tors on Hen Mountain as they can be slippy with sheer drops. There are boggy conditions between Hen and Cock mountains and between Slievemoughanmore and Wee Slievemoughan and gaiters are recommended on these sections. The ascent of Slievemoughanmore can be challenging with steep rocky slopes and slippy conditions in wet weather.
Parking : BT34 4RL
Hen Mountain Car Park, Sandbank Rd, Hilltown, BT34 5XU. The car park has space for about 15 vehicles and has a picnic area and waste bins. If full, parking is available 1½ miles further towards Rostrevor in the spacious Leitrim Lodge Car Park, BT34 5XX.
Public transport is not feasible. The Black Sheep Mournes Hiker/Biker Uplift, formerly known as AIMSS (Activities in Mourne Shuttle Service), operates a flexible year round service for walkers and cyclists, weekends only in winter, mainly in the eastern Mournes. However, it may be possible to arrange a drop-off/pick-up in the western Mournes. Contact them via https://facebook.com/AIMSS2013/ or to book: T: 0751 6412076
Slievemoughanmore Western Mourne Circular Walk
This walk in the western Mournes covers five peaks with several strenuous sections. None of the peaks are higher than 560m, but the variety of summit topography, the outstanding views and the diversity of the intervening landscapes make for an interesting hike. The western Mournes are much quieter and less visited than their eastern counterparts. The walk will appeal to those who enjoy a quiet, contemplative outing with solitude more or less guaranteed on Slievemoughanmore due to its isolated setting. Even on summer weekends, it is unusual to meet more than a handful of fellow walkers on the western peaks.
Slievemoughanmore Western Mourne Circular Walk Route Details
1 From the car park, cross Sandbank Road and take the farm lane to the left of the house that faces the car park. After about 650m the lane reaches a gate which opens onto the grassy lower slopes of Hen Mountain.
2 Hen Mountain is the most popular spot for walkers in the generally quiet western Mournes. Its proximity to a car park and its manageable top height of 361m appeals to families and first-time hikers, while its interesting summit tors attract the more experienced. There are a couple of obvious well-trodden paths to the tors. Take the path to the left and, as the views open out, look out for abandoned millstones at various stages of manufacture.
3 There are four tors: West, South, Summit (or Middle) and The Tower, the Summit Tor claiming the highest point. The West Tor is the first to meet you and it’s well worth taking the path to its top for the great views. The shapely granite formations of the tors invite further exploration, but care is needed on the rocks especially in the wet when they are so smooth they look as if they have been polished. All the tors can be climbed, at least partially, with care. All you need is a head for heights, stretchable limbs and a stiff measure of common sense.
4 The West Tor leads on to The Tower, which could easily pass for the summit tor with its impressive conical peak reaching into the sky. The Summit Tor, however, is behind (east) and well to the left (north) of the West Tor. Finally comes the South Tor which faces Cock Mountain and is, ironically, the furthest east.
5 Viewed at a distance from the south, the four tors and their relative positions and heights are portrayed graphically.
6 Progress to Cock Mountain is straightforward with the path from the South Tor being a preferred option. A narrow path skirts to the left of the South Tor between it and the Summit Tor. It borders the tor above steep grassy slopes and gradually drifts down to open ground between Hen and Cock.
7 The path up Cock Mountain follows a course that makes for the col between the mountain’s twin peaks. There are patches of boggy ground and some areas where the path becomes very faint. It’s quite a steep slog that demands a few rest stops before gaining the summit. Although the mountain does not share the aesthetic qualities of Hen, it’s worth visiting both summit cairns as each offers a different viewing perspective with Spelga Dam and the High Mournes to the east and Rocky Mountain, Tornamrock and Pierce’s Castle to the west.
8 The journey from Cock to Pigeon Rock is complicated by the lack of any defined path. However, there are many sheep tracks, most travelling in a south-southeast bearing suggesting that the sheep have a liking for Pigeon Rock and an aversion to excessively boggy land, as the sheep tracks avoid the terrain to the north-east, parts of which are pure bog.
9 Continue in a south-southeast direction until you reach flattish ground, then take a slightly more easterly course uphill towards Batt’s Wall and the summit of Pigeon Rock. If you arrive at the wall but don’t see the summit cairn, turn left and walk north until you reach a stile. The summit cairn sits beside the stile overlooking Spelga Dam and the surrounding peaks. There is a south-southeast cairn (Grid Ref IG J 264244) which is well worth a look, but will involve a substantial boggy detour.
10 Leaving the cairn, follow the course of the wall initially south before turning to the south-west where you should get a glimpse of the Irish Sea to the east. A look over the wall will reveal a landscape dotted with boggy ponds and peat hags.
11 The small ponds around the area to the north of the wall are worth a look as they host two insectivorous plants, Sundew and Butterwort, as well as several Mourne floral staples such as Milkweed, Tormentil, the ubiquitous Bog Cotton and the less common Bog Asphodel.
12 The wall makes its way downward with intermittent views of the Irish Sea to reach a stile at the col between Pigeon Rock Mountain and Slievemoughanmore. The upper stretch of the little Rowan Tree River runs through the col.
13 The ascent of Slievemoughanmore is quite challenging. It has several steep sections with large rocks that can be slippy in wet weather. It’s probably easiest to stick to the wall, but at certain awkward points it is necessary to deviate in search of more forgiving terrain. As height is gained, the views open up generously to the north-east and north-west.
14 Slievemoughanmore’s summit hosts two competing cairns, neither of which is visible from the wall. With the ground beginning to level out as you near the apex of the wall, turn right and walk north for about 150m to visit the cairns. The summit cairn (Grid Ref IJ 24980 24152) enjoys superb views of Spelga Dam, the peaks of the western Mournes, the Cooley Mountains in County Louth and Slieve Gullion in County Armagh. The lesser cairn is visible from the summit cairn, but is somewhat camouflaged by its position on top of a rock outcrop. For dedicated cairn baggers, the Grid Ref is IG J 24941 24070. The summit plateau is peppered with granite boulders, small ponds and interesting rock formations.
15 The descent from Slievemoughanmore should be undemanding although some care is needed in wet weather. There are several impressive rocky ledges and comfortable rock platforms, ideal for rest and recuperation. The immense bulk of Eagle Mountain dominates the eye line to the south-east with the precipitous slopes of its Great Gully running along the Pigeon Rock River Valley to the south. The Cooley Mountains should be visible to the south-west and, in generous visibility, the Sperrin range may be discernible towards the north-west. To the east, Slieve Binnian and Wee Binnian catch the eye, while a short walk to the west picks out the next destination on the walk, Wee Slievemoughan and the path back on the Mourne Way.
16 As you approach the col between Slievemoughanmore and Eagle Mountain, the well-named Windy Gap, a very boggy stretch of ground close to the wall needs to be avoided. Cross over the col to the far bank and follow the north-west course of the stream. There is a very faint path running along roughly parallel to the stream, but the vegetation can be rampant in summer and constant attention is needed to avoid some deep, partially hidden holes in the peat. The area’s desolation has allowed nature to gain a foothold resulting in an abundance of wildflowers. The downside is the rather punishing walking conditions.
17 Cross the stream after about 300m just before it joins the Rocky River and walk in a north-northeast direction parallel to the Rocky River on your left as the tors of Hen Mountain make a repeat appearance. There is no clear path to guide you up Wee Slievemoughan. However, upward progress should be trouble-free and the rocky ridge near its summit is a good mark to aim for. The slopes of Wee Slievemoughan are known to host the elusive Common Lizard, Ireland’s only native reptile, and in sunny summer weather you may be lucky enough to spot a scaly sunbather.
18 The views from the ridge are excellent. To the south, nearby Slievemoughanmore and Eagle Mountain lead on to Pierce’s Castle on the other side of the Rocky River. Further away to the south-west lie the Cooley Mountains in County Louth, while over to the west, Slieve Gullion and Camlough Mountain come into view. To the north-west, Tornamrock and the domed Rocky Mountain dominate the vista while away to the far north, the Belfast Hills can be picked out in good visibility. The ridge also affords a comfortable opportunity for a rest before completing the short hop to the summit.
19 The unmarked summit presents some interesting rock formations with views of the High Mournes opening up to the north. To the west, Cock Mountain and Hen Mountain lead on to the open countryside of County Down and beyond.
20 The mountain’s north-eastern flanks lead down to the obvious course of the Mourne Way path and the route back to the car park. Towards the end of the descent, there are several boggy areas on former peat workings that are difficult to avoid completely and gaiters would be useful. After negotiating the tricky terrain, cross the Rowan Tree River and continue north for a few metres until you arrive at the path.
21 Turn left onto the Mourne Way and take the benign downhill return to Hen Mountain and the car park. The Mourne Way is a linear 42km walk from Newcastle to Rostrevor concentrating mainly on forest tracks and the foothills of the mountains. For info check https://walkni.com/mourne-mountains/mourne-way/
Dogs are not allowed on lands administered by the trustees of Batt’s Estate (which include all of this walk).
Narcissus Batt, a wealthy Belfast banker and landowner, bought the Leitrim Estate in 1834. The eponymous wall marked the boundary of his estate and was probably constructed during the famine years. It remains in remarkable condition considering that it was built some eighty years before the Mourne Wall was completed. It runs from Tievedockaragh to the summit of Slieve Muck where it joins the Mourne Wall.
Millstones were shaped in the mountain near where stone was quarried. Masons did not get paid until the stone was delivered to the bottom. Stones which may have revealed a crack or imperfection were discarded.
(Information courtesy of Tirconnell Stone Festival https://www.facebook.com/tirconnellstonefest/)